Illinois needs our input on ESEA flexibility waivers NOW

UPDATE: ISBE says they will post Illinois’s draft proposal tomorrow, 2/10, on their web site (see link below).

Meanwhile, today the US Dept of Education approved 10 of 11 waiver requests submitted by states last December.

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As the first round of ESEA flexibility waivers are about to be announced (Thursday, we hear), the Feb. 21 deadline for the second round – which will include Illinois – is coming up fast.

That’s a pretty short timeline for people to get a clue about something that may lead to major changes in state education policy. (I’ll try to give you the gist of it in a minute.)

In fact, if you want to have any input into our state’s waiver request, you only have until Monday, Feb. 13th, to register for one of two public hearings sponsored by the Illinois PTA, to be held on Feb. 15th in Schaumburg and Feb. 16th in Berwyn (details here and below).

The US Department of Education really wants you to be heard (they say p. 9 and elsewhere). USDE has mandated that applicants “meaningfully engage and solicit input on its request from teachers and their representatives and from other diverse communities, such as students, parents, community-based organizations, civil rights organizations, organizations representing students with disabilities and English Learners, business organizations, and Indian tribes.”

Yet I would be surprised if more than a handful of folks outside of the Illinois PTA leaders even know anything is going on. The Illinois State Board of Education web site promises information – “Details on Illinois’ proposal will be forthcoming”….”Please check back” on the web page for updates. That’s it. No updates. Remember, the deadline for submission is Feb. 21.

Do you feel meaningfully engaged or solicited? Me, either.

This lack of transparency is happening in other states, too. Parents Across America’s Wendy Lecker from Connecticut wrote this on the PAA blog last week:

So far, the “input” the (Connecticut) state Department of Education seeks consists of a web address to write to, found on a page of the DOE’s website. However, the DOE has not made any draft application available for review. It is impossible to give meaningful input on the application without knowing its contents.

In a follow-up post, Wendy reported that, after she and several other parents wrote in asking the state to make the application available and hold hearings, the State Department of Education complied.

NCLB according to Arne

So, what’s the deal with these waivers? Well, Fed Ed Head Arne Duncan in his infinite wisdom as a former pro basketball player in Australia just got darned tired of waiting for Congress to remake NCLB in the image of Bill Gates and Michelle Rhee, so he first sent forth Race to the Top, the federal bribery plan that allowed Democrats for Education Reform and Stand for Children to rewrite state education laws across the land. That being not enough, he then decreed that states could apply for flexibility waivers to get out of the terrible mandates of NCLB as long as they agreed to the terrible mandates of Arne Duncan: to adopt the Common Core state standards, the common core national tests, link teacher and principal evaluations to standardized test scores, and, instead of all students being  “proficient” by 2014, assure that all students will be “college ready” by 2020.

That’s my take. You can read the USDE’s version here. That link will also take you to the actual applications of the states that applied in the first round, whose fates will be announced tomorrow.

I have e-mailed the Illinois PTA ( bquinnpta@aol.com) and ISBE (nclbwaiver@isbe.net.) asking for more information. To ISBE I wrote, “I am interested in providing input on ISBE’s application for a flexibility waiver, but am unable to find a draft or any other proposal on the ISBE web site to respond to. Can you help?” I’ll let you know if I hear back.

Here’s the PTA invite:

No Child Left Behind/Elementary Secondary Education Act
STAKEHOLDERS MEETING
ON FLEXIBILITY WAIVER
7:00 to 8:30 P. M.

WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 15, 2012
JANE ADDAMS JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOL, 700 S. Springinsguth Road, Schaumburg, IL

THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 16, 2012
MORTON WEST HIGH SCHOOL, 2400 S. Home Avenue, Berwyn, IL

Doors will open at 6:30 p.m.  Presentation will begin promptly at 7:00 p.m.

In September, 2011, the Flexibility Waiver for the Elementary Secondary Education Act, commonly referred to as No Child Left Behind, was announced. The Illinois State Board of Education is committed to developing a strong waiver request that addresses:
 putting children first
  preparing every student for success in college or a career, and
 raising expectations by closing the achievement gap while still meeting local needs.

Who should attend:
 parents
  students
 community leaders
 school personnel
Why attend:
 to learn what the Flexibility Waiver is and is not
  to share your concerns
  to ask questions
 to provide information and feedback to the State Board of Education

To reserve space, please visit the Illinois PTA website, www.illinoispta.org, and complete the registration form.

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About the PURE Thoughts blogger
Julie Woestehoff is PURE's executive director. Julie's work has earned her a Ford Foundation award and recognition as one of the 100 Most Powerful Women in Chicago.